First, a little background. “Drifting” is a form of motorsport imported from Japan in which pairs of cars face off in a contest of power oversteer. Unlike racing, time isn’t a factor – winners are sorted from losers by a panel of judges who rank competitors based on slide angle and car control. If NASCAR could be compared to speed skating, drift is more like pairs figure skating (if both skaters were trying to eliminate each other from competition, that is…)
When Americans first became aware of drift, it was an exclusively import-vehicle phenomenon. Turbo fours and sixes were the powerplants of choice, with the occasional all-motor “Hachi Roku” (“Eight Six” in Japanese – slang for the AE86-platform RWD Toyota) four-banger thrown in for variety. Today, the Formula DRIFT competition series is surprisingly popular here in the United States, and although Japanese makes dominate when it comes to the vehicles themselves, when you look under the hood of many of them, there’s a red, white, and blue surprise waiting.
At the opening round of the 2011 Formula DRIFT season in Long Beach, California, the most popular engine family among the competitors was, by a large margin, the Chevy LS. Number one qualifier Conrad Grunewald, the only competitor in the field of 32 with a car that originally came with an LS, explains, “They’re cheap, plentiful, light, make good horsepower without a power adder, and they’re reliable.” So dominant have they become, in fact, that Grunewald foresees a rule change that might forbid cross-breeding between platforms, just to maintain the variety pro drift once had.